Interesting rhythms, some superb tracks, thoughtful lyrics and Jen Wasner’s warm, expressive vocals make this one well worth investigating.
Label: Merge Records
Time: 12 tracks / 38 minutes
This duo compromises a couple who were once an item, but are now just bandmates. Andy Stack provides the rhythms with drums and keyboards (he can play both simultaneously on stage), while Jenn Wasner is on vocals, guitars and bass.
Both contribute equally to the spacious sound: Stack’s interesting rhythms and sequencers form the bedrock, while Wasner’s clear, warm and appealing vocals ride on top. They add enough colours to give tracks their identity without smothering them.
Early on (verse sections from “The Instrument” and, to an extent, the title track ) Stack’s skittering loops sometimes feel like they are running too fast for Wasner’s vocals to keep up with. The sense of being slightly out-of-synch can be distracting.
But after this, things click nicely into place and bring on some of the best songs. The utterly excellent "It Was Not Natural" has strong shades of later Sixpence None the Richer, with its warm melody and Wasner’s vocals a blend of Leigh Nash and (when going higher) Kate Bush. Stack’s keys are right on target, with shades of Gary Numan early on and some just-right fills through the song. “Life” shares this track’s Nashness.
“Symmetry” is far more angular than the title suggests. It is an angry reaction to people who cannot hold to the grey areas of life and try to neaten them by polarising opinion.
As the album crosses the halfway mark, the guitars come out. They give “Over and Over” the simple energy of indie-pop, but the picked strings of “Join” – together with Wasner’s double-tracked and reverbed vocals – create a vibe of classic folk given a fresh sheen.
There is a tremendous confidence here, both in the slightly experimental approach and the sometimes symphonic scope of its sounds.
You’d hardly guess what the songs are about from the lyrics, but Wasner’s comments in interview reveal that they cover issues like struggling to cope with the 24 hour news media and resisting the need for approval on social media, as well as being committed to life. Although she sings, “I want to tell the girl next to me / That there is no such thing as truth,” she seems to feel a strong need to build an “Inner centre” and develop “a set of core beliefs that you cling to” to make sense out of chaos.
Much as I love creative rhythms, sometimes Wye Oak seem to complicate things unnecessarily here, but they still have some very fine songs and a distinctive, highly appealing sound. No songs stay around long enough to get boring. Rather, some are too short and make you want more. Road-testing it on the motorway, I had to play it again, once it had ended. It gets a bit compulsive like that.